Did Taxpayers Spend $3.4 Million for Trump Super Bowl Party?

The real scandal isn't the price tag but the beneficiary.

I have been arguing for a while now that the crimes for which President Trump were impeached bother me quite a bit less than the everyday corruption he displays.

So, I was predisposed to be outraged by the HuffPo report “Taxpayers Get $3.4 Million Tab So Trump Can Host Super Bowl Party For His Club Members.”

Taxpayers shelled out another $3.4 million to send President Donald Trump to Florida this weekend so he could host a Super Bowl party for paying guests at his for-profit golf course.

The president’s official schedule shows him spending two and a half hours Sunday evening at a “Super Bowl LIV watch party” at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. Tickets sold for $75 each, but were only available to members of the club — the initiation fee for which reportedly runs about $450,000, with annual dues costing several thousands of dollars more.

And I am indeed outraged, as I have been since he became President-Elect, that Trump is pocketing taxpayer money and leveraging his office to advance his personal business interests. More on that in a bit.

But it’s not helpful when critics bury that message when they conflate that corruption with perfectly normal presidential activity. And this report does that, rather seriously.

“Well, obviously there are no TVs in the White House, so what alternative did he have?” quipped Robert Weissman, president of the liberal group Public Citizen. “He could have saved money by chartering a plane and flying club members to watch the game at the White House.”

So, yes, that would be great. But like it or not, none of our recent Presidents have been content to hole up in the White House or even their nearby, taxpayer-funded getaway at Camp David.

In response to a query, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham defended Trump’s trip and attacked HuffPost: “The premise of your story is ridiculous and false, and just more left-wing media bias on display. The president never stops working, and that includes when he is at the Winter White House.”

Her phrase “Winter White House” refers to Mar-a-Lago, the for-profit resort in Palm Beach that is several miles east of the golf course and that doubled its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000 after Trump was elected in 2016. Trump frequently mingles with guests at social events there.

Now, it may be a stretch to say this President never stops working. But we’ve long understood that Presidents frequently travel, at enormous taxpayer expense, in ways that mix business and pleasure. That’s, no pun intended, par for the course.

If Mar-a-Lago were Trump’s home, in the way of George W. Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch, it would be annoying but routine for him to go there for things like Super Bowl parties on our dime. The scandal isn’t the cost of his travel and security at Mar-a-Lago, it’s that he’s putting money is his pocket every time he does it. Indeed, we pay him extra to that the Secret Service can protect him.

On Saturday, for example, Trump appeared at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago arranged by the “Trumpettes,” a group his female supporters. The dinner did not appear on the president’s publicly released schedule, and in any case was a campaign event, not an “official” one. 

When a pool reporter asked the White House on Saturday what work Trump did over the weekend, the reply was that he had calls and “meetings with staff.” The president did not attend a rally on Saturday for Venezuelan leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States and other governments have recognized as the legitimate president of that country. That rally began while Trump was still at his golf course, and attending it could have made him late for the start of the Trumpettes’ dinner.

Even though I voted for Barack Obama’s Republican opponents in both instances, I defended his golf outings. Trump overdoes it, in my view, but I’d frankly rather he golf than make bad policy. (

And all Presidents meet with supporters. And, almost by definition, they could be doing something else that would better serve U.S. public interests instead. That may be lamentable but it’s normal.

Trump promised during his presidential campaign that he would separate himself from his businesses if he won. However, he reneged on that vow, as well as on his promise to release his tax returns.

Right. And we should genuinely be outraged by both those things. They are not normal.

[M]oney spent at Trump hotels and golf courses flows directly to the president, as he is the sole beneficiary of a trust that now owns his family business. U.S. taxpayers have been the source of at least a few million dollars that have gone to the Trump Organization in the form of hotel rooms, meals and other expenses for Secret Service agents and other government employees who have stayed on-site with Trump in Florida, New Jersey, Scotland and Ireland.

Again: not normal and outrageous.

This weekend’s trip to Mar-a-Lago was Trump’s 28th to the property since becoming president. Saturday’s and Sunday’s golf outings at the West Palm Beach club brings his total to 79 days there since taking office and 244 total golf days at properties that he owns.

Almost certainly excessive and more-than-normal. But . . . not outrageous. (That he constantly decried his predecessor’s golf outings and has, from the beginning, far outpaced him is galling in its brazen hypocrisy but hardly scandalous.)

Taxpayers’ total tab for his golf hobby, meanwhile, climbed to $130.4 million.

That figure and the $3.4 million for each Mar-a-Lago trip are based on a HuffPost analysis that included the costs of Air Force transportation, Coast Guard patrols, Secret Service security and other expenses, as detailed in a January 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office of Trump’s first four visits to Mar-a-Lago in early 2017

So, that’s not great stewardship of the taxpayer dollar. But I’m not going to quibble about how often he goes golfing.

The President is both our head of state and head of government. Not only does he need to be able to be reached, on a secure line, at any instant but his assassination would be a national tragedy.* So, we spend enormous amounts on security, communications, and the like any time a President travels.

I’ve argued for years that we go overboard on these measures. I’m not convinced, for example, that we need to send an entire fleet of limousines when a President travels abroad, particularly in highly-developed countries. But it’s part of the routine built up at least since the Kennedy assassination and that continues to grow for perfectly understandable bureaucratic reasons.

So, to recap:

  • Let’s not get in a tizzy every time Trump plays golf, watches a Super Bowl, or does other perfectly normal things that every other President in memory has done.
  • Let’s not compound that by whining about the perfectly normal costs associated with Presidential travel—let alone treating it as some sort of personal scandal.
  • At the same time, let’s not treat Trump’s daily self-dealing as normal simply because it has become routine.

___________________
*Let’s not have a discussion as to whether the country would be better off if this particular President were dead.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    Just another page in the catalog of Trumpian corruption: At his golf resorts Trump drives a special souped up golf cart so he can get to a ball faster than anyone else and improve his lie or worsen an opponent’s. So all his secret service agents have to have carts that go just as fast, so his course bought a couple of dozen and “rents” them to he agents at exorbitant fees.

    12
  2. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I didn’t know that. But am not the least bit surprised.

    1
  3. sam says:

    Seeing that picture of Trump, I’m put in mind of something the late, great Godfrey Cambridge once said: “Behind every big man there’s a big behind.”

    6
  4. Kurtz says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Trump is the id of America–uncouth, ostentatiously ignorant, and totally lacking self awareness.

    16
  5. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: Normally I think it’s hard to go wrong with just assuming that everything odd Trump does is related to a phobia or simply because he’s a moron. But cheating at golf is one place where I give him more credit than most. In particular, most people assume Trump’s notorious habit of driving his cart on the green comes from his outsize ego and general boorishness, but I’ve always assumed he’s deliberately driving across the line of his opponents put or using the cart to block their line of sight as he nudges his ball to a better lie.

    4
  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The difference between Trump and every other President before him…he is pocketing money every time he goes golfing or goes to his “Winter White House”, or wherever. To the tune of millions of dollars. He is pocketing money from his campaign donations for the offices he gives them at his properties. And he is pocketing money from the Diplomats who go to the Trump Hotel in DC to try and curry favor with him.
    https://www.citizen.org/article/catering-to-conflicts-influence-and-self-dealing-at-trumps-businesses/
    We do not know who is paying whenever he goes to one of his hate rallys…but I doubt it is the campaign. We know the campaign is not paying the towns he has visited for their expenses.
    https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-campaign-racked-up-1-million-unpaid-bills-us-cities-2019-10
    I’m willing to bet that this all pales in comparison to the corruption we are not yet aware of.
    And the fuq-wad doesn’t even know where Kansas City is.

    15
  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Let’s not have a discussion as to whether the country would be better off if this particular President were dead.

    Killjoy.

    10
  8. Pylon says:

    I’ve long suspected that the main impetus for Trump’s decision to run was the fact he could grift and save his failing businesses.

    5
  9. Kurtz says:

    @Pylon:

    I think the grift was the campaign itself–leveraging his political profile into a TV network.

    It seems more likely he never thought he would win the nomination, much less the Presidency.

    7
  10. CSK says:

    @Pylon:
    I don’t think Trump intended or wanted to win. The whole charade was just a branding/marketing exercise.

    5
  11. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    Also…He doubled the room rates at the Doral before the RNC met with him there. So in addition to self-dealing there is price gouging. in effect he is stealing money from his campaign contributors.

    6
  12. Jay L Gischer says:

    Yeah, this kind of thing is why I don’t really read the Huffington Post much, even though it’s nominally aligned with my politics.

    If the other side does it, it must be bad. This is a human thing. No wonder we’re having so much trouble.

    6
  13. Pylon says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    True. Normally a business traveller or a group will get a substantial discount, but I’m betting Trump is getting rack rates whenever its a government or lobby booking.

    2
  14. Morris Devereaux says:

    In other words, let’s not quibble about anything that could be applied to Obama as well. Nor will we give credit to Trump for all the one-time costs of providing security at Mar-a-Largo that weren’t saved with Obama’s jet setting. But we WILL try to single out the only thing that could be applied to Trump alone for criticism.

    6
  15. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Morris Devereaux:
    He’s riding Obama’s economy and not doing anything to improve it…he might as well go golfing.
    There are only so many kids you can put in cages…only so much corruption you can undertake in a day.
    And the wall that Mexico isn’t paying for…well it either falls over in the wind, or people climb it in mere seconds, or tunnel under it.
    His lover in NoKo keeps making more weapons. Iran is back in the weapon business, too.
    Farmers are going bankrupt because of his tarriffs.
    Pleeeease…go golfing more often you obese, fake tan, stupid comb-over, clown.

    Here’s an idea, Morris…maybe take of your red hat…it seems to be cutting off the circulation from your brain.

    12
  16. Kurtz says:

    @Morris Devereaux:

    Joyner’s post is about Trump’s vacations putting money in his own pockets.

    The scandal isn’t the cost of his travel and security at Mar-a-Lago, it’s that he’s putting money is his pocket every time he does it.

    In fact, he criticizes the media who slam Trump for things every President does.

    Almost certainly excessive and more-than-normal. But . . . not outrageous. (That he constantly decried his predecessor’s golf outings and has, from the beginning, far outpaced him is galling in its brazen hypocrisy but hardly scandalous.)

    In fact, Joyner is picking apart the HuffPost article as hyperbole. It is almost like you didn’t read the article and just reflexively responded to it with “But Obama…”

    16
  17. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    More on Trump’s self-dealing…

    New @FEC filing: Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign paid $194,247.57 to Trump family members, properties & businesses in the final quarter of last year alone—steering over $1.8 MILLION in donations from presidential campaign donors to @realDonaldTrump’s private interests

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/2/3/21120187/trump-fec-campaign-trump-organization

    2
  18. STUFJ says:

    @Morris Devereaux: It’s not the only thing

  19. mattbernius says:

    @Morris Devereaux:

    Nor will we give credit to Trump for all the one-time costs of providing security at Mar-a-Largo that weren’t saved with Obama’s jet setting.

    If you think that Trump has significantly cut travel costs versus Obama, then perhaps you might offer some reason why the White House is working to prevent public disclosure of his travel costs until *after* the 2020 election. See reporting:

    https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/477465-mnuchin-aims-to-wait-until-end-of-election-to-disclose-secret-service

    BTW, you also realize that we are collectively paying for the secret service costs of the extended Trump family’s “jet setting”?

    rump, who promised to “rarely leave the White House,” was estimated to have spent $13.6 million in one month in 2017 on Secret Service and defense needs during travel. His sons have also traveled internationally, but it is unknown how much their total travel has cost.

    The president is designated one primary residence to be protected by the Secret Service with semiannual cost reports to Congress. These were not submitted in 2016 or 2017, and the following were delayed by months.

    The Secret Service declined to comment to The Hill. The White House declined to tell the Government Accountability Office how much the president’s travel costs, according to the Post.

    Source: above link

    7
  20. Teve says:

    By summer of 2019, Trump had already cost taxpayers more Ameros for vacations than Obama did in 8 years.

    5
  21. Gustopher says:

    The real scandal is what a shitty Super Bowl Party it was…

    https://twitter.com/david_j_roth/status/1224435435830571014?s=21

    Sad.

  22. Gustopher says:

    The self-dealing when he travels seems… quaint? Unseemly, but quaint?

    There’s a line somewhere, and I’m pretty sure this crosses it, but it’s part-and-parcel with electing someone who owns private clubs to the Presidency. And I’m pretty sure trying to define the line, it’s going to be a fuzzy mess. This is both a “home” and a business.

    The rest of the administration using Trump properties and the foreign governments renting out suites to curry favor… so much worse.

    2
  23. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: We insisted that Jimmy Carter divest from his small family peanut farm to avoid any hint of propriety and he dutifully complied. It was considered a scandal of epic proportions that his brother Billy was capitalizing on his brother’s office to market his branded beer.

    I don’t think it’s asking too much of Trump to sell off his hotel business—much less to not charge the taxpayers for renting rooms for the Secret Service agents who protect him.

    8
  24. Teve says:

    I always try to avoid any hint of propriety.

    😉

  25. Scott F. says:

    @James Joyner:

    I don’t think it’s asking too much of Trump to sell off his hotel business—much less to not charge the taxpayers for renting rooms for the Secret Service agents who protect him.

    Trump’s congressional enablers would have to force the issue and since they aren’t inclined to force him to obey the law, I’d say it is asking them too much to compel Trump to stop profiting from the office.

    2
  26. Ken_L says:

    I don’t think most liberals would begrudge any president a bit of time to play golf or relax at the family home for a weekend. Apart from the self-dealing, the resentment and ridicule directed at Trump reflect the fact he made the matter an election issue, bragging that he would be far too busy working for America to have time for golf.

    4
  27. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: Somewhat less than half the country, in strategic locations, voted for a man whose businesses are Holiday Inns with gold tone fixtures and luxury branding that would be nearly impossible to divest without losing a fortune in “value” — the only thing they have is the ridiculous Trump name.

    I don’t like it, but I accept it. And as a purely practical matter, I’ll accept the (mind bogglingly stupid) choice of those people as taking precedence over “laws” in this matter. I don’t like it, but I can accept it.

    If President Elizabeth Warren owned a bed and breakfast that she kept going to, we would never hear the end of it, and the hypocrisy wouldn’t surprise me. It wouldn’t even bother me — it would remind me that I am a better person than them.

    I don’t know whether Bush or Obama security had to pay to be near them, and if the Secret Service are getting market rates — that’s a fruitful area of comparison, but I don’t think the self-dealing on his vacation spots is itself terrible.

    The man should get to go where he wants to go. And then he should go to hell.

    2
  28. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Joyner:
    @Gustopher:
    I think the self-dealing is just another instance of the corruption endemic to this administration.
    Far more Trumpian…or Trumpist…is Trump using un-documented immigrants to work at his clubs…a story that hasn’t gotten nearly the traction it deserves.

    1
  29. Barbara says:

    No True!! He took his whole family…daughters, wife and his mother in law. He also played as much golf…his media didn’t mention it. He was always at Martha’s Vineyard with his cronies!!

  30. Barbelle says:

    @Gustopher: g@Gustopher: The man is our president, the leader of us all. How can you take solace in the fact that you’re a better person than he is? He is supposed to be better than all of us – the best of us, leading the rest of us! I actually feel sick to my stomach when I read some of this. I cannot believe that such a person is sitting in our White House, and that you find this corruption “ acceptable.” Or mayhaps you were being facetious? I can only hope. I can hope that the people of this country find this to be outrageous – not “acceptable” on any level.

  31. Art says:

    @MarkedMan: SO what@Teve: Baloney